“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish,” J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in The Lord of the Rings. Some works are weaker for their procrastination. John Huston wanted to make The Man Who Would Be King with Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable. The two stars had never been paired on screen before but ultimately died before the film could be sorted out.
The Beatles versus the Rolling Stones debate has been going on for fifty years. The Beatles crossed the Atlantic like a four-mop-topped Trojan horse. They wanted to hold hands. The Rolling Stones wanted to be your lover, baby. Andrew Loog Oldham, the Rolling Stones manager, promoted the Rolling Stones as the anti-Beatles, even though their earliest hit was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Oldham learned his trade from The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, Oldham worked at the Beatles offices prior to taking on the London blues purists.
The Rolling Stones followed the Beatles lead on many occasions. They used sitar on “Paint It Black,” months after George Harrison worked out the lead for “Norwegian Wood.” The Beatles made movies. The Stones wanted to make movies.
Richard Lester had a huge success when he created the “Citizen Kane of Jukebox Movies,” A Hard Day’s Night. It showed the four cheeky Liverpudlian (Lever-pullers) musicians on a typical day. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Star dragged Steptoe and Son‘s Henry Wilfrid Brambell through a car and a room, a train and a room, and a room and a room as they catapulted to worldwide renown. Lester followed that up by painting Ringo red and reinventing the screwball comedy in Help! The Beatles were under contract for a couple of more movies.
They looked at A Talent for Loving, based on a book by Richard Condon, who wrote The Manchurian Candidate and Prizzi’s Honor, but passed. They also turned down a homoerotic thriller called Up Against It, written in 1967 by British playwright Joe Orton.
The Beatles film company, Apple Films, had a critical flop, but an artistic success as far as I’m concerned, with Magical Mystery Tour, which was broadcast in black and white on British TV on Boxing Day 1967. The also had a huge hit with Yellow Submarine, one of the greatest animated films of all time, in theaters in 1968.
Like their albums, The Beatles wanted each of their films to be different from the one before. A Hard Day’s Night was a mock-documentary. Help! was a James Bond spoof written by Marc Behm and Charles Wood. The Beatles again played versions of The Beatles. Their films’ producer Walter Shenson said the band wanted to play something other than themselves.
Before J. R. R. Tolkien sold the film rights for The Lord of the Rings to United Artists, who produced A Hard Day’s Night, in 1969, The Beatles thought it might fulfill their contract nicely. Lennon, one of the best songwriters in music contacted Stanley Kubrick, one of the best directors in the movies, to make it. Lennon reportedly wanted to play Gollum. He cast Paul as Frodo, Ringo as Sam, and George as Gandalf.
J. R.R. Tolkien, who was an English professor at Oxford at the time, was initially in favor of the idea. Lord of the Rings was published in 1954 and the best offer he’d gotten was from literary agent Forrest J. Ackerman who wanted to make a cartoon out of it. Ackerman hadn’t scored his big hit, Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, yet.
“I actually spoke about this with Paul McCartney. He confirmed it. I’d heard rumors that it was going to be their next film after Help. … It was something John was driving and J.R.R. Tolkien still had the film rights at that stage but he didn’t like the idea of the Beatles doing it. So he killed it,” Peter Jackson remembered in an interview with Wellington Evening Post in 2002. Jackson, of course, ultimately directed Lord of The Rings.
According to a published letter, Tolkien was upset that neighbors near his house on Oxford’s Sandfield Road wanted “to turn themselves into a Beatle Group … the noise is indescribable.” Is the story true? “Pay heed to the tales of old wives. It may well be that they alone keep in memory what it was once needful for the wise to know,” Tolkien said in The Lord of the Rings.
The Beatles finished their three-film contract with United Artists with Let It Be in 1970, A documentary of the breakup of the band.
“It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you watch them on a screen,” Anthony Burgess wrote in A Clockwork Orange.
Stanley Kubrick had not yet screwed Pink Floyd out of doing the music for his masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ever the perfectionist filmmaker, Kubrick told Lennon that he suspected the novel Lord of The Rings was too big to be filmed.
Kubrick was still a few years away from adapting the futuristic novel A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess to film. At the time, Mick Jagger was trying to buy the film rights so the Rolling Stones could terrorize a future London.
“Cast deep in your pockets for loot to buy this disc of groovies and fancy words. If you don’t have bread, see that blind man knock him on the head, steal his wallet and low and behold you have the loot,” wrote Andrew Loog Oldham on the liner notes to The Rolling Stones, Now! album. He was trying to emulate the nadsat govereeted by the malchicks in the book. The American version censored the record much the same way they would cover up the Beatles’ “butcher baby” cover for Yesterday… and Today.
A Clockwork Orange told the story of a violent street gang who robbed, raped and killed their way through England. It was inspired by a real-life home invasion suffered by Anthony Burgess and his wife.
Oldham discovered the novel while he lived with Jagger and Richards in London in 1964. He wanted to make the anti-A Hard Day’s Night.
“I couldn’t get the rights to make A Clockwork Orange because Anthony Burgess thought that he had cancer and just wrote furiously and took money in from others,” Oldham told contactmusic.com in 2007.
In 1967, while the Rolling Stones were making Their Satanic Majesties Request, they reportedly started a collaboration with photographer Michael Cooper to produce a film adaptation A Clockwork Orange with Terry Southern. Southern wrote the novel Candy, which would be made into a soft porn movie with Ringo Starr. The Stones wanted Richard Lester to direct and wanted David Hemmings, the star of Blow Up and Barbarella, to play Alex.
Terry Southern was the man who introduced Stanley Kubrick to A Clockwork Orange. He’d given a copy to the director when Kubrick was adapting his Dr. Strangelove.
Jagger, Richards and Brian Jones spent a lot of time in 1967 in courts fighting drug charges and the project seems to have petered out.
So, Beatles or Stones, Kubrick or Jackson, would the imagined films or the finished projects have been better? Each had their merits and we only know what made it to the screen.